Where are your friends tonight?
I wouldn't trade one stupid decision ...
The New Fatherhood explores the existential questions facing modern fathers. Here's a bit more information if you're new here. You are one of the 2,644 dads (and curious non-dads) who have already signed up. If you've been forwarded this by someone else, get your own!
I knew who Nick Cave was, of course. 13 years young and introduced to the idea of a murder ballad, watching a tall, terrifying man carefully deposit the body of a fellow Australian into a lake. But that was the extent of my exposure. I never fell deeper. His music seemed too out there, requiring me to cross a void that I wasn’t ready for yet.
Things changed in 2019. Ghosteen—an album drenched in grief and transcendent in beauty, an examination of what is left behind after the death of a child, a celebration of the superhuman ability to find hope after all is lost.
His work continues to inform mine. Not just his music, but his writing at the Red Hand Files: his comfort with language and rhythm; the ability to bend and twist words to his will; sentences and paragraphs, verses and choruses, falling so easily into place while exploring what it means to be human and how music can bring us together.
"There seems to me to be three levels of friendship.
First there is the friend who you go out and eat with, or get pissed with, who you go with to the cinema or a gig — you know, have a shared experience with.
The second kind of friend is one who you can ask a favour of, who will look after you in a jam, will lend you money, or drive you to the hospital in the middle of the night, someone who has your back — that kind of friend.
The third level of friendship is one where your friend brings out the best in you, who amplifies the righteous aspects of your nature, who loves you enough to be honest with you, who challenges you, and who makes you a better person.
None of these levels are mutually exclusive and sometimes you find someone who fulfils all of these categories. If you find a friend like that, hang on to him or her. They are rare."
Rare indeed. But a regular occurrence in music. John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Iggy Pop and David Bowie. André 3000 and Big Boi. (Just a trio of pairs, and probably not the first three that would have come to your mind.) Music is a catalyst for friendship, an accelerant for connection, an iconic album like a petrol can thrown onto an open fire. When you're a boy—to paraphrase Nick Horby—it's about what you like, not what you're like. You search for your place in the world, defining yourself by what you love and hate, bonding with others over how cool Oasis are, and how ridiculous Blur must be (swap them around if you're from the south of England, or trade in Notorious B.I.G and Tupac if you're a similar age in the US.)
Those early friendships that shepherded me into adulthood were forged in the fire of the night club, pogoing in the centre circle of an indie gig, or obsessing over a little-known remix at the afters. Music gave us permission to leap around together idiots, with the intoxicants buzzing through our systems doing their fair share too.
When I moved to San Francisco, friends told me I needed to meet Gareth. “You’d get on like a house on fire.” A kindred spirit, I was promised. I knew "of" him—I'd seen his name pop up around adland, essays in the trade publications, blurbing the marketing book of the season. Fellow father, music nerd and strategist—like me, but with a few more years on the clock.
Gareth is the only person I know who might be a bigger DFA Records nerd than me. He's seen them more often, but it's close. We both have our "meeting James Murphy" stories—mine are more embarrassing, unless he's holding back. A while back I shared my LCD Soundsystem conspiracy theory: they’re actively working to ensure I will never hear a live performance of Yr City's A Sucker—one of my favourites. He thought it far-fetched, but in the two years we lived in the same city, it was all but confirmed. We say them twice together—nothing. He saw them twice on his own, following them around California like he was auditioning for a disco-punk remake of Almost Famous—and they played it. Both times.
They're playing live, again (at this point they’re threatening Elton John for the farewell tour tally.) 20 shows in Brooklyn, kicked off last week. Gareth and I are firing updates across the Atlantic: YouTube clips, Instagram posts, set lists.
"You obviously weren't there last night," he texts. My white whale, first track on the encore. He's going, of course. "Just for two nights …"
"That would be phenomenal. Sad to miss it."
"You could get on a plane," he replies.
Sure. I could. I mean apart from Covid, the cost, the kids ...
As we get older we learn—just like Rob, the protagonist of High Fidelity—that what really matters is what you are like, not what you like. We discover that what we’re attached to can paralyse us—making us over-conscious of our place in the world, afraid of becoming trapped in it. But those passions also raise us up. There's little more joyful than sharing something you adore—a song, a meme, a book—with someone who tells you they adore it too. The things you love become a Trojan Horse, a shortcut to deeper connections with interesting people in your orbit.
In lieu of an overnight flight to JFK I'm scratching my itch in other ways. Today's was an ear-splitting playback of 2014's The Long Goodbye, conducted whilst the kids are swimming. It's the closest I’ll get without leaving the country. Of course, Yr City's A Sucker isn't on the album (conspiracy theory: confirmed) but I’m left thinking of those memorable nights that turned into memorable mornings, spent with friends old and new, before the inevitable painful next days. I can close my eyes and I’m almost back on the dance floor, dodging kids’ toys as deftly as I once waltzed over broken bottles, the riff from “Dance Yrself Clean” lifting me up off my feet as the bass lifts the art off the wall next door.
It can't last. The kids are imminent. Bodhi is hungry after furiously rejecting the same dinner he devoured a few days earlier. If I can only turn the volume down a little bit, nudge one half of my brain in fatherhood, maybe I can leave the other half at this gig until bedtime.
But tonight, as always, the kids have other plans.
Looks like we’re rocking out to the Fireman Sam theme song again.
3 things to read this week
Seems I'm not the only one inspired to write about the intersection of Nick Cave and fatherhood this week—this essay from Nick Buckley was a moving reflection on his father's sudden passing, and how a live recording of a "Push the Sky Away" allowed him to find joy in a moment of grief.
What makes a good friend? Over the last few years I've realised it's more around who you are comfortable showing your whole self. Check this short essay by Shane Parrish on how friendship isn't just "being there for your friends, it’s also allowing your friends to be there for you."
This multigenerational study from Harvard has shown that the quality of our friendships correlates to our own health and wellbeing. Bonus: when your close friends are happier, you're happier to, if you needed any more reason to wish them well.
Giving the gift of The New Fatherhood
Yes, I'm doing a Christmas gift thing. Yes I know it’s already the second week of December. I wanted to try and do something better than “just a gift subscription”, so I spent the last 2 weeks editing my favourite 22 essays so far and turning them into an eBook. It works with iPad, Kindle, and whatever else you might have lying around that you use to read eBooks.
I’ve paired it up with a subscription to the newsletter and access to the New Fatherhood Community. Of all the surprises from 2021, this community has been the most rewarding—a small group of like-minded dads, all helping each other on this strange journey together. It’s changed what I think an online community can be—like a bat-phone for dads, in your pocket, whenever you need to share a problem, help someone else out, or just celebrate a little victory of fatherhood.
For those who want to give something better than socks to a dad in their life this year, consider a membership for The New Fatherhood. There are two options:
A Little Taste: "The New Fatherhood: Year One" eBook, a 6 month subscription to The New Fatherhood, and access to the online community. $30
The Big Kahuna: "The New Fatherhood: Year One eBook", a 12 month subscription to The New Fatherhood, access to the online community, some limited TNF stickers and an enamel pin badge. Due to shipped issues, and my own lack of organisation, these badges and stickers will be send out in January. $60
Interested? Click one of the links below, make sure to enter your email (not the email of who you're buying it for), and I'll be in touch within 48 hours with a link to download the eBook along with a nice postcard you can give on Christmas Day.
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